MAS 961  ·  Techno-Identity  ·  Spring 2006

05.04 Faces



Fridlund New ethology, in The Psychology of Facial Expression
Ekman (read at least one of these two papers)
Should We Call it Expression or Communication?
Darwin, Deception, and Facial Expression
Azar What's in a face? (this is a short, useful introduction to the debate about the relationship between faces and emotion)
Russell and Fernandez-Dols The meaning of faces, in The Psychology of Facial Expression
Zebrowitz Readings Faces, ch 3
Donath Mediated Faces (draft)


  1. Read the papers. Ekman and Fridlund represent two very different views on whether and how faces signal emotion. This controversy is put into context by (briefly) Azar, and at greater length and depth by Russell and Fernandez-Dols. Zebrowitz looks at the correlation between the face as signal and the qualities we beleive it to represent. My paper discusses the use of faces mediated communication.
  2. Answer these questions:
  • Fridlund (pg 109) says that "Signals do not evolve to provide information detrimental to the signaler. Displayers must not signal automatically but only when it is benficial to do so." Do you agree? How does this fit with the defniition of signaling we have been using thus far? How does this fit with involuntary expressions of inner state (such as blushing or crying)?
  • Ekman proposes that "all facial expressions of emotion are involuntary". Is there any way of reconciling this view with Fridlund's? Do they each use the worlds "emotion" and "expression" in the same way?  In Ekman's view, are facial expressions signals? Are they in Fridlund's? Are they reliable siganls?
  • What does Zebrowitz mean by "overgeneralization effects"? What is an example of a physically based overgeneralization, a culturally based one and a personal one? Can you re-frame her discussion about different cues (signals) of traits (qualities) that are seen in faces in terms of signaling - are these signals assessment signals? What are their costs? Go to a public place and observe 4 different people you do not know. Write down what your impression is of each of them. How much is your impression drawn from their face, their clothing, their actions, etc? Concentrating on the face, what sense of the person do you derive from it? Can you articulate why? Do you think any of the "overgeneralization" processes that Zebrowitz describes played a role in your interpretation? What about other categorzation processes?
  • Faces are used to recognize people, to assess their character and gauge their emotional state. In a mediated environment, we may be able to design interfaces so that none, some or all of these functions are possible. What are the costs and benefites of each of these functions, to bo the signaler (the face) and the receiver (the viewer). How might you design a face that that purported to show character and emotion, but not identity?  Can you show identity without the markers of character? When do you think seeing someone's face is important in a mediated environment? Why? In what form? What about videophones - do you think they will eventually replace or supplement the audio-only phone or is there a deeper reason why they have never been successful?

Please link your essays by midday on Tuesday May 2.